T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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Superman #9 takes us back to the world of Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier for the conclusion of Escape from Dinosaur Island. Written by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason with pencils by Doug Mahnke, the second half of the two-issue arc sends the caped combatants into the belly of the beast. ComiConverse’s Krypton correspondent, T. Kyle King, is here with his review.
Superman #9 Review:
Superman! Superboy! Krypto! Captain William Storm! Dinosaurs! Gorillas! World War II combat ordnance! Space-age pseudo-scientific technology! Escape from Dinosaur Island — Part 2 pretty much offers everything you could want from a comic book, doesn’t it?
(Some spoilers follow!)
Superman #9 Synopsis:
Superman and Superboy are examining Johnny Cloud’s cave engraving when Captain Storm arrives and attacks them. Superman subdues the former PT boat commander, who reveals that, after being carried away by a pterodactyl, he killed one flying dinosaur and tamed the others in its nest. Storm returned to the cave hoping to find Cloud. The sailor agrees to help the caped superheroes retrieve the transporter device that brought them there.
Superman, Superboy, Krypto, and Captain Storm fly into the lair of a giant white gorilla, who is perched atop a heap of pilfered armaments that is guarded by a pack of dinosaurs and related reptilian creatures. The heroes locate the transporter cube and discover that the gorilla’s eye contains the same technological implant as the cephalopod that attacked the submarine. Superboy retrieves the cube, Superman grabs the eye implant, and Storm refuses their offer to take him with them. The war hero holds off the dinosaurs while the Kryptonians return home… only to find that the eye implant was whisked elsewhere while in transit.
Superman #9 Analysis:
The opening chapter of Escape from Dinosaur Island overtly paid tribute to the late Darwyn Cooke, and the homages are ongoing throughout Superman #9. Captain Storm makes a dramatic entrance, coming in with eye patch on, wooden leg off, and gun blazing. After the Man of Steel swiftly squelches the threat, the calmed Naval officer fills in the blanks to explain how he survived his seemingly fatal encounter with a flying reptile when he was last seen. Elegantly, Storm relates this war story while petting Krypto as though he were Pooch.
After the epic scope of Cooke’s New Frontier, Tomasi and Gleason wisely give their story a smaller scale and take a minimalist approach to the issue’s first nine pages. Storm’s firefight with Superman lasts all of four panels before the writers begin filling in the gaps and humanizing their heroes. The wounded sailor’s unspoken reaction to man’s best friend is but the first of several subtle touches, which is soon accompanied by young Jonathan Kent’s wide-eyed wonder and teary-eyed fear, his father’s compassionate offer to bring the captain up to date on the more than 70 years of history Storm has missed, the proper burial of Cloud’s bones, and the presentation of a new prosthetic hewn from a tree branch using heat vision.
Aesthetically, Mahnke’s heavily lineated, finely detailed, and deeply shadowed modern style is the antithesis of Cooke’s clean lines, classic designs, and sunny simplicity reminiscent of yesteryear. Nevertheless, the penciller’s work in Superman #9 — inked by Jaime Mendoza and Trevor Scott, colored by Wil Quintana — is suited to the task of bring closure to Tomasi’s and Gleason’s carefully crafted coda. The grizzled veteran’s gritted teeth and furrowed forehead convey the weight of what Cooke put him through, and his darkened visage stands as a sharp counterpoint to Superboy’s smooth and expressive face.
In the expansive action set piece making up the second half of Escape from Dinosaur Island — Part 2, some of such nuances suffer, as the facial features from the climactic conflict appear flatter and more static. Even in pages filled with multiple jagged panels rippling with kinetic energy, though, the focus of the conclusion of Superman #9 is on the big picture, not the minutiae. The ending is all exploding sea mines, growling great apes, and gunslinging warriors riding pterodactyls into battle.
In making this transition from talking heads to flights and fights, Tomasi and Gleason perform a particularly deft perceptual switch. Having begun by collapsing down Cooke’s sweeping grandeur into a subtle synecdoche substituting Superman #9’s depth to showcase New Frontier’s breadth, the writers then reverse their field and go big before their heroes go home. In so doing, they zoom out to a widescreen view for a cacophonous graphic barrage in which Captain Storm shoots first and the audience asks questions later. In the moment, the reader has no time to wonder about any nuance more refined than whether Krypto is going to get eaten again.
What isn’t obvious initially is what is occurring beneath the surface. After the last issue introduced the intriguing implication that The New Frontier is now a canonical part of the Rebirth continuity, Escape from Dinosaur Island — Part 2 concluded with a closing sequence that offers inscrutable hints about how all of it ties together, perhaps including the mysterious Mr. Oz behind the scenes and maybe even the larger linkage to Watchmen lurking still farther in the background. For a tale that wrapped up a two-part arc ostensibly diverting and diverging from the primary plotlines, Superman #9 sure seemed to send several ripples across the placid surface of a deep pond.
Likewise, the exuberant self-indulgence and outsized adventure of the story required readers to take it in stride when, after a pterodactyl-riding World War II PT boat captain led the Man of Steel into a cave guarded by dinosaurs to reclaim the missing transporter cube, it was revealed that the thief who pilfered the device was a torpedo-wielding albino gorilla. I mean, at that point, why not? It isn’t as though simians are strangers to superhero comics, after all! Once the adrenaline stops pumping, though, there comes a pause during which the audience has to ask if the albino gorilla in Superman #9 might have been the Ultra-Humanite.
Hence, Escape from Dinosaur Island — Part 2 features historical callbacks, heartfelt homages, moving emotional exchanges, bold action sequences, intriguing plot points, and a veritable legion of amazing animals. Although Lois Lane was left out of the action, she was given an almost literal shout-out when Clark Kent, attempting to reassure their frightened son, helped to put the boy’s mind at ease by promising him that they would make it home so they could “get yelled at by your mother.” (Clark doesn’t have Lois’s bedside manner, but he’s still a good parent.) Superman #9 covered all the bases in a scant 20 pages, which is about all you can ask a comic book to do.
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
This tribute to a widely admired artist goes from little to large while sounding all the right notes.